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Maintaining High Performance During Peak Seasons
With the increased percentage of inbound shipments, Sunland was able to manage a 99.9% on time shipping goal. Additionally, Sunland was also able to increase productivity by 9%, saving the manufacturer over $800,000 in expected budget.
Beginning in 2005, an industry leading lawn care product manufacturer partnered with Sunland in 2005 to manage their recoup and return operations in Greenville, SC. Eventually the scope of the operation grew to include distribution of finished goods and Sunland’s team earned multiple partner service awards from the customer.
In 2016 the retailer conducted a network optimization study and decided to consolidate its southeast U.S. distribution operation. After a competitive bid process, Sunland was selected to launch and manage the Southeast Regional Distribution Center outside of Atlanta, GA. With the increased inbound volume, the operation expanded, growing to a total size of 1.2 million square feet.
Forecasting & Planning Challenges:
Naturally, demand for lawn care products fluctuate throughout the year. With the peak season ranging from early February to the end of July. There are two peaks in demand waves. The first being from January – March, and the second being from May – June. During this first wave, outbound is typically doubled for several weeks at a time. Given the variables impacting consumer behavior relative to the demand for lawn care products, accurately forecasting the increased inbound and outbound volume is difficult.
Environmental impacts can often change forecasts and make it difficult to accurately plan ahead. Typically, longer winters delay the peak, and shorter winters shift the other way. This can also affect returns as some of the product has specific expiration dates that isn’t always salvageable.
The forecast variability makes optimizing resource planning for the warehouse operations a significant challenge.
When peaks are on and off between months, it’s hard to build a strong staff when the job is temporary, especially in a competitive staffing market. Overstaffing leads to excess costs, but understaffing can risk poor customer service and incurring costly vendor penalties.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused additional challenges and demand fluctuations to the already precarious lawn & garden market. With more consumers at home during the early stages of the pandemic peak was a drastically increased and extended. This caused less down time between peaks. Shortly after the pandemic hit, Sunland’s team supporting the lawn & garden retail customer, experienced a 3,222% spike from the average number of weekly eCommerce orders it processes. After 2020 the new average daily order volume fluctuates 2,000% between non-peak and peak season. Additionally with the pandemic, staffing saw even more difficulties given the increase in quarantine safety precautions and a decrease in the number of people interested in temporary employment opportunities.
Sunland has focused on several different collaboration methods to ensure alignment & continued success to support this strategic customer during their peak seasons and a pandemic.
Working directly with the manufacturer and remaining in close collaboration with their business manager has been critical to remain nimble and aligned on a Plan, Do, Check, Adjust (PDCA) approach to planning as different issues arise. Having increased communication allows for both sides to consistently focus on the customers best interest & priorities.
Implementation of Sunland’s Customer Success Platform has allowed for day-to-day operation review & alignment for both the customer and the operations team. Being able to see the overarching view of volumes in the building allows for more accurate planning and strategy. These IT implementations have given a pulse to the operation that can continuously monitored for improved results.
Additionally, Visual Daily Management (VDM) boards were implemented on the warehouse floor so team members and managers could see, know, and act as a group at any point during each day.
Safety First Precautions:
During the pandemic, Sunland’s team has made changes to the day-to-day operations to keep its team members safe and to ensure the continued support of the operation. Investments in touchless faucets, door stoppers to keep doors open & limit touches, onsite nurses, antibacterial wipes, Covid education & communication, and masks were provided in the facilities to increase the health and wellbeing of Sunland team members.
Team Member Recognition:
Another key area of focus is performance recognition & team member engagement to help boost employee satisfaction and workplace morale. Providing team cookouts when a goal is reached, dinners when certain performance records are hit, and recognizing team members of the month are several ways that Sunland has been able to promote and maintain a positive, productive work culture and improve retention issues with seasonal staffing.
Flexible Staffing Partnerships:
Along with the increased internal efforts, having multiple strategic staffing partnerships has allowed for the flexible labor required to support the seasonality and an easier way for potential temporary employees to find permanent opportunities at Sunland. With multiple staffing partnerships, during peak season the operation maintained about 70% temporary employees while 100% Sunland team members are maintained during non-peak seasons.
The collaborative solutions Sunland implemented resulted in the operation continuing to thrive even through the new challenges that came with the pandemic. With the increased percentage of inbound shipments, Sunland was able to manage a 99.9% on time shipping goal. Additionally, Sunland was also able to increase productivity by 9%, saving the manufacturer over $800,000 in expected budget.
The quantified value gained by the lawn & garden retailer is the result of consistent customer communication, visibility tools, and investing in keeping team members safe, engaged, and rewarded. Now with the “new normal” still consisting of average daily order volumes fluctuating 2000% between non-peak and peak season, Sunland is a confident partner the lawn & garden retailer can trust to help them remain successful.